This is the sad story of the famous sleeping beauty of Mount Everest, as narrated by Ian Woodall and Cathy O’Dowd, who were also climbing to the summit when they came across Francys Arsentiev popularly known as the sleeping beauty. before she passed away while descending from the mountain, she was the first woman from the United States to reach the summit of Mount Everest without the aid of bottled oxygen, on the same fateful day of May 22, 1998. Her cause of death, Hypothermia, and/or Cerebral Edema possibly due to exposure to very cold temperatures for a lengthy while.
Don’t leave me she said.
Her skin was milky white and totally smooth. It was a sign of severe frostbite, and it made her look like a porcelain doll. Her eyes stared up at me on focusing pupils. Huge dark voids. Don’t leave me, she murmured again. I felt sick. With her long, dark hair. She looked like me for a shocking second, I felt as if I was glimpsing a possible future for myself. The fact that she was conscious both encouraged and appalled me. It might be possible to save her, or we might yet have to leave her. I need to fetch the rest of my team. I said to her. We have several people here. We will try and help you. I will come back. I promise.
Why are you doing this to me?
She asked. This was Francys Arsentiev. And this is the good, the bad, and the pure evil of the possible outcome on Mount Everest.
Who was Francys Arsentiev?
Born Francys Yarbro on January 18, 1958. In Hawaii, very little is known about her life. She married in 1992 to Sergei Arsentiev, and together they climbed many peaks. She was the first woman to ski down Mount Elbrus in Russia and some of its east and west peaks. The couple decided to make history by reaching the summit of Everest without supplemental oxygen. Looking at Francis she wasn’t exactly the Everest type. She wasn’t a professional climber, and not really an obsessive adventurer, but the couple wanted to try. Mt Everest still isn’t a monster that you take lightly, it has its ways to remind climbers not to be cocky, and never to underestimate the power of mother nature. There is literally no technology in the world that can help someone stuck 29,000 feet high, with temperatures as low as minus 160 degrees.
Ready for the spooky bit of the story? In 1988, a young 11-year-old named Paul woke in a cold sweat from a nightmare and went immediately to tell his mother about it. And in the nightmare, the boy sees climbers stuck on a mountain and heavy snow. The boy watched as the snow surrounded the climbers and then they died. What scared the boy the most was the climbers were Sergei and Paul’s mother Francis. Even more spine-chilling. The nightmare happened the night before the Mount Everest climb. Paul begged his mother Francys not to go. She reassured him as best she could and told him she had to do this. As I said Francys was not a professional climber, but Sergei had a lot of climbing experience, even earning the nickname “The snow leopard”. The pair did indeed make it to the summit of Everest without any supplemental oxygen. Making Francys, the first woman from the US to do so. So climbing Mount Everest takes around 19 days to make it to Basecamp. From the base camp to the summit of Mount Everest takes about 40 days. And then from the summit down the mountain is about 30 to 40. So overall it could take about 90 days or three months for the complete trip.
The couple had reached the summit pretty much issue free. It was during the descent when issues came up. What exactly happens isn’t fully known. But a couple who were climbing to the summit would tell reporters what befell this couple on their tragic day. It was Woodall and Kathy who recount that on their climb and they came across Francys in her purple jacket. They noted her frozen body looked like Sleeping Beauty, which later on, the press coined the name sleeping beauty on Everest. The couple sank in when they figured Francys was dead and took a respectful moment, but when they were about to move on, they noticed the body violently spasm Francys was still alive, mumbling something.
The couple would go closer to the body and realize they knew the woman from the base camp. They had met her and even had tea with her. To them. She wasn’t very passionate about climbing. She was more so accompanying her husband. They remembered her talking more about her child and life back home. Often on Everest, the air is 1/3 of the oxygen done at sea level. Francys was now struggling for air, her face was frostbitten, and she wasn’t fully conscious. Like an SOS on repeats, Francys would repeat the same sentence stuck on a loop.
Don’t leave me. Why are you doing this to me? And I am an American.
She’d said these phrases over and over and her face and skin had turned Snow White. She looked like a wax figure preserved in the snow forever. The couple would remark she looked like Sleeping Beauty. Later, when other climbers came across her and took photos. The Press seized the moment by calling her the sleeping beauty of Everest for eye-catching headlines. As to the cause of her death. Hypothermia was a definite cause. But it is also believed Frances took a fall resulting in a brain injury like cerebral edema.
Since the mountain is very high, they couldn’t try to drag the body thousands of feet down to base camp because probably a fate like Francys’ was highly likely to happen to them. It would have been almost impossible to make it with her to base camp, and she probably wouldn’t have survived the long journey. Siergei, Francys’s husband had lost her during the descent. Sergei got to camp but couldn’t find Francys. He was advised to wait and allow her to come to camp rather than him going back up. So he waited for hours. And when he couldn’t wait anymore, he went out to look for Francys. The whole day he looked, but sadly he died too on the mountain. A year later, Sergey was found. He appeared to have fallen like Francys and died of hemorrhaging.
The dead bodies on Mount Everest
On Everest, the dead lie where they fall, like gruesome signposts, reminding climbers nature has the final say. No matter how skilled you are whether you climbed it before doesn’t matter. Nature decides on the day, the hour, and even the minute if you conquer Everest or not. Haunted by leaving Francis and then for years having to see climber photos of the woman here for years, a team was gathered to go back and give Francis a dignified burial. They wrapped her in the American flag and moved her out of the passage. So climbers couldn’t find her and couldn’t take photos of her anymore. The tale of Sleeping Beauty Everest is famous amongst climbers, but more for cautionary reasons. Stories are not always motivational or inspirational. Sometimes they are more to warn. And that’s what Francys Arsentiev’s story is. Her story tells of achieving your goals, but also the dangers that await them when scaling down Everest. As to why she died it will never be 100% known high altitude, oxygen deprivation, exhaustion, injuries or other reasons could have caused this. If she was at a lower elevation, experts claim she may have survived without supplement oxygen. This story circulates amongst high-altitude climbers to remind them not to begin their journey without supplemental oxygen. Since 1998, the story of Francis hasn’t been forgotten. It made climbers even more aware of what they are signing up for when tackling major Everest without oxygen.
The tale and those who still lie up on Mount Everest show others that even the most experienced can make mistakes. The tale warns us to not make decisions quickly and to learn from those who have successfully and unsuccessfully tackled Mount Everest. And that is the tale of Francys Arsentiev and the sleeping beauty of Everest.